The Archon Team League Championships in Review by RDU
When I first heard about the ATLC I was very excited, not only because of the insane prize pool that Team Archon put up, but also for the unique chance to participate in a team event and show the world what we can do. The moment I saw the other invited teams I knew it was going to be a hard journey, but we set our goal to qualify for the LAN event because, unlike many other teams, we communicate a lot with each other and practice when needed. The format that ATLC uses is a Bo11 conquest with each team having to send 6 classes, which sounds easy since every player only has to win 2 games with each class, but in reality it's very complicated due to having to use ''bad'' classes as well as good ones. The benching rule also adds another layer of mindgames to the picking order, which was already hard enough because there is a huge amount of picking strategies and possibilities already out on the table.
The Round Robin
In the first week we decided to play our best classes each and practice a bit between ourselves to figure out if the decks were good enough to bring to such a prestigious tournament, especially given that we were facing the organisers right out of the gate. The whole series started really badly for me, dropping a lot of games on my not so refined aggro paladin list which we chose to bring mostly because of the surprise factor. In the end, this was the first series that went to a decisive game at 5-5 and the pressure was over the roof. I ended up taking the series against Zalae's druid on the back of a really good draw and an aggressive start that he couldn't answer in time. Click for the match VoD.
The second week we were facing Team Celestial, a team that we saw had struggled quite a lot in the first round so we tried to make that our advantage by scouting out their decks and having a team call on how to approach it. We ended up going for an anti-aggro strategy. I went for hunter and a very risky deck - the midrange paladin, a deck which was considered very weak in the team league, but looked very strong against Team Celestial and managed to get me the victory quite easily. At 2-0 we felt really good and super confident of making the playoffs, even though we knew that we had a long road in front of us and that the last games were very important. Click for the match VoD.
In the third week we went against Team Liquid who were also struggling a lot at the time. I think they had more solid picks than us because we didn't exactly know what to expect from them. This put them in a really strong lead (5-2) and put us in a spot where we didn't believe we could make a comeback. We had to reverse sweep the patron warrior from Sjow. In that series I won a game with my hunter earlier so I only had to clear my rogue. Since I thought I could handle pressure very effectively after I already closed a series for us against Zalae in week 1, we decided to send me in case the series went to 5-5. The miracle happened and my teammates managed to beat Sjow until the score was 5-5, so the moment when the pressure was again going through my blood came and I was even sweating out of tension. I tried to keep my calm as much as possible and took the game on the back of a greatly executed Loatheb topdeck!
At 3-0 we felt on top of the world and I was even thinking about going 7-0 and advancing to the LAN finals undefeated (stupid me) but this dream was about to get crushed and we were very close to receiving a very big reality check. We were about to face Value Town, a team that was a bit predictable so we prepared a really strong lineup against them after some hours of skype conferences. We were very unlucky in that series and we dropped it, going to 3-1 overall and realising we can lose. It’s like when you think you are super healthy and nothing can ever happen to you and you have an accident and go to the hospital, realising how close to dying you were. Click for the match VoD.
Week 5 we were hungry for blood, facing ForsenBoys, probably the most predictable team of them all. Their picking order and the deck choices were more or less the same during the whole league so our scouting was pretty easy. Even after coming from a loss and also from a LAN (Assembly), all our energy and concentration was put into the game against ForsenBoys, which we managed to win with a decent score of 6-4. Click for the match VoD.
At 4-1 we already made calculations that we would advance to the LAN finale directly if we only won 1 out of the next 2 rounds, how hard could it be? We were facing two very strong teams, Tempo Storm and Cloud 9, so the pressure was again very high. One day before deck submission we found out that Lifecoach couldn't attend the ATLC week because of some personal issues and that we had to use our substitute and manager Lothar. He was probably the most shocked of us all because he dedicated most of his time to managing the team (shoutout to him for being best manager btw) and to streaming, since he never expected that he would have to jump in and sub for one of us. That week everything went wrong and we got out-picked in decks and in deck ordering, also having super bad RNG, dropping the series with a very bad score. Click for the match VoD.
With the 4-2 score and 1 more week to go, the first 4 teams in the league were tied which meant that the winners would go to the live finale and the losers would have to play even more games to qualify. Lifecoach came back but that was not enough to beat Cloud9, another series where I think we were too predictable and where we also made a couple of mistakes in picking classes and being too afraid of getting members benched. After losing the games and watching the other teams play we were devastated because we went from being the 1st team to being 6th which meant that not only weren’t we going to the live finale directly, but that we also had to play a redemption game against Team Liquid because they lost against ForsenBoys while having a huge lead. This was probably the hardest moment that we faced as a team in the league, but we kept our calm and started practicing and making strategies on how we can beat Team Liquid and advance to the 4 team satellite that seeds another 2 teams into the live finale. Click for the match VoD.
The series that we played against them could have potentially been a disaster but it ended up good for us. We decided to not be predictable again and to just send me twice and hopefully I would go 2-0 and bring the team a lead in this very important series. I got some nice draws and I got the team a 2-0, followed up by Thijs going twice and clearing his decks. At 4-0 we felt really good knowing that we only needed Lifecoach to win with hunter and warrior, the decks that were considered by far the best at the time. Even though he is probably the best from the team at managing pressure, in that series we felt that something was not going as we expected. He started dropping games and the casters and viewers could notice a couple of mistakes and even some missed lethals on boths sides.
With the score at 5-5 I decided to not check skype for spoilers and to go and watch it from the bed while holding a pillow in my hands because I was too scared of losing. I felt 10 times more pressure than when I was playing myself and my heart was beating faster than if I would run a marathon. Lifecoach managed to play the game at 5-5 perfectly, redeeming himself and redeeming Nihilum from the past performances, bringing us to the 4 team satellite that would decide the last 2 seeds for the live finale!
Enter TGT and the Satellite Phase
We were very happy that we qualified, and because we knew TGT was coming very soon we decided to practice like never before. We were having 3-4 calls that would last for hours every single day before deck submission and we were practicing day and night to figure out the best decks and the best strategies against the field, targeting mostly ForsenBoys since they were the most predictable in their picks and also there was a big chance that we would face them 2 times, which actually happened. We could feel the synergy between us was working and that we could come up with great ideas together so we wanted to prove that we deserve to be in the live finale of this prestigious league and that it wasn't just a fluke that we started 3-0. We also figured out that it was a mistake being predictable so we started rolling the dice for picking decks in the satellite. This way we wouldn't have to kill our brains about the pick order and we could focus on the actual game.
We came up with some really interesting decks which got us in a good spot against ForsenBoys and even with some bad draws on our side, the game went to 5-5 because of a perfectly played freeze mage game by Thijs. At 5-5 I had a favorable matchup and almost no pressure on me, because I was confident that my argent squire hunter deck would destroy Chakki's hunter that didn't even run unleash. It was the third time that I ended a series at 5-5 and took it home for Nihilum so we were again feeling really good that our work had been rewarded (too early, right?). Click for the match VoD.
The next day we faced Tempo Storm, which was the team with the best decks against us, even if the decks looked really weirdly and inconsistently built. In that series everything went wrong and we just got stomped, probably having the worst RNG ever. We took the loss ok and we put all our focus into the deciding series which we found out later that day was going to be against Forsen's boys. Click for the match VoD.
We decided that the best thing we could do was sleep well and try to be relaxed going into the series, knowing that we had the better decks. The series started badly for us in a close hunter vs patron matchup that we lost but then it continued into 5 wins in a row, getting us the 5-1 with both Lifecoach and Thijs going 2-0 and clearing their decks. Now was my time, I had to win 1 out of the next 5 games using the mech shaman that we built together. The deck is not very consistent but has the power to ''steal'' games through insane burst. I tried to play very well and even though I played almost perfectly with the hunter earlier in the night, I struggled very hard and dropped 2 games to Chakki and Forsen. At 5-3 my teammates were encouraging me to take a 2 minute break which helped me clear my mind and focus for the next game which I ended up winning after making too many trades because I was afraid of him having some specific combos.
Finally Back in the Finals
Afterwards we were insanely happy with the work we put into the satellite tournament and with the synergy that ATLC created between us. I think we all improved skill wise and mindset wise since the league started and I expect us to do very well at the LAN if we manage to continue practicing and talking the way we do now. I think the most important thing was picking the decks as a team, helping each other with practice and not flaming each other for one misplay or one game/series loss, which are things that will happen to everyone at some point or another. I am very happy to be part of Nihilum and also really excited to play in America against other top teams and to prove that Nihilum is the best!